Since the pro-Trump riot at the U.S. Capitol two weeks ago, both city officials and activists have asked whether any Charlotte law enforcement officers were involved.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police said last week that there is no indication that any current officers or other employees participated in the Jan. 6 riot that has been linked to five deaths, including a U.S. Capitol police officer.
CMPD spokesman Rob Tufano said that while the department respects its employees’ First Amendment rights, “there were clear violations of law” that occurred at the Capitol. CMPD’s internal affairs bureau has been “vigilant” to ensure that no employees broke the law, he said.
At least 29 current and former police officers from different departments attended President Donald Trump’s rally near the White House that preceded the riot and at least 13 participated in the riot, according to The Washington Post. The officers came from departments as small as Rocky Mount, Virginia, and as large as Houston, according to NPR.
On Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office said they are not aware of any employee who attended the riot. Charlotte Fire has not said whether any of its employees participated in the riot.
Last week, prior to CMPD’s statement, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles said during a strategy meeting that she had asked CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings whether any officers participated in the “storming of the Capitol.”
“We talk about who works with us and for us ... (sometimes), those small things make a big difference,” she said. “People are making these choices, and I don’t know that there’s a consequence for it, but knowing it is an important aspect.”
After a question from City Council member Tariq Bokhari, Lyles clarified that she was seeking to identify only officers who actively broke the law and contributed toward the destruction.
Council member Braxton Winston — who has been outspoken in the past about police reform — added that white supremacy is “ingrained in law enforcement entities all over this nation” and that the council has an obligation to scrutinize not only CMPD, but also public safety agencies like the fire department.
Winston also alluded to a North Carolina congressman who “aided and abetted the insurrection.” Winston confirmed later that he was referring to Republican Madison Cawthorn, who spoke at the Trump rally.
Winston also said the council should discuss how the council will work with Cawthorn in the future.
“We’re on the cusp of a civil war — let’s just say it out loud,” he said. “In order to keep our city safe, we have to figure out how we are going to operate within the current confines of our history.”
Activists watch for signs of white supremacy
Local activists say that the calls to identify CMPD officers who might have participated in the Capitol riot echo previous demands to identify officers who have white supremacist sympathies.
In Charlotte, social justice group SAFE Coalition NC has proposed comparing the tattoos of officers to hate image databases. The Charlotte NAACP has also argued that CMPD should screen the social media presence of potential hires for white supremacist sympathies.
CMPD’s current directives say that visible tattoos cannot be “vulgar, indecent, sexist, or racist in content or nature” and must be covered up if they do not fit guidelines.
The department’s social media policy broadly allows employees under First Amendment protections to use personal social media accounts to comment on public issues as long as they do not represent themselves as speaking on behalf of CMPD and as long as it does not it does not disrupt their work or “undermine public confidence in the employee.”
CMPD’s directives also say that social networking sites are monitored and employees may face disciplinary action if their activity has been “inappropriate.”
Charlotte defense attorney Tim Emry said he does not think CMPD does enough to monitor officers for white supremacist sympathies while they are employed and when they are hired. While he is sensitive to privacy concerns, Emry said that a higher level of scrutiny should be applied to police officers compared to other public employees, since officers are authorized to use deadly force.
“That’s an extremely high responsibility that is bestowed upon them,” Emry said. “I think the trade off is that we need to make sure who those people are.”